What can I say about this magnificent talking horse book? I suppose it’s not exactly a children’s book, although it’s certainly rated G… or maybe PG because of the violence of the fighting stallions. It’s a very realistic portrayal of the Australian bush animals that just happen to be able to communicate in a way readers can understand (hence the speech). But it’s also a magnificent look at the older days of the white settlers, before modern conveniences, and how they treat the native and feral animals. It’s also a big study into jealousy and bullying for our noble silver-coated hero.
The Silver Brumby is in fact a creamy-coloured little colt, named Thowra (which means ‘wind’), born of the same creamy-coloured mare Bel Bel. Thowra is Bel Bel’s first foal of the same colour, and they’ll never forget each other. I think it’s technically some kind of pale palomino, but given that Mitchell makes it very clear Thowra’s winter coat looks silver rather than cream, it could even be some kind of colour I don’t have a name for. My personal version had a dark palamino horse on the cover, and I don’t see how that could ever be ‘creamy’ or ‘silver’.
Thowra is brought up to be very bush-wise, even more so than his contemporaries (except his best friend and brother, Storm, a gorgeous bay stallion). Thowra will be hunted his entire life because of his unusual and rare colour, and the other stallions will be jealous of him. So he needs to be able to run very fast, to avoid his pursuers. He’s brave, resourceful, and cares deeply for his herd. He’s also proud, cheeky, and a lot of fun. As he grows up from foal to stallion, we see him grow into his strength and leadership, and see him even gather an enormous sense of responsibility, like any good leader. His strength and speed grow, and his ability to lose his pursuers gains him a legend-like status, so much so that he’s often referred to as the ‘ghost horse’. He’s also incredibly smart, and knows how to rile up his pursuers, whether they be other stallions or humans on horseback, often goading them into a rage that allows him to escape.
There are so many great scenes in this book it’s hard to pick just one. There are several running scenes where you really feel like you’re seeing the world through a horses’ eyes. There’s magnificent fight scenes between rival stallions (and I cry when Thowra’s father, the magnificent chestnut Yarraman, is beaten to death by his biggest rival, The Brolga, to take over the Cascade herd). There are brumby hunts where you feel the terror of the horses. In winter, when the horses are starving and looking for anything to eat, you feel the desperation in their foraging.
This book reminds me of home because of the most wonderful imagery and descriptions of the Australian bush. Well yes, I did grow up in an entirely different area, and I’m pretty sure the story is actually based in the Snowy Mountains region in southern NSW, but it’s so easy for me to see the bush this way. It reminds me of an Australian Christmas, a gorgeous summer, and I used to read it at least once a year (my version is seriously falling apart). Now I read it whenever I get a little homesick.